Blazin' Saddles

Easy Ryder: Fully truthful Hesjedal doing cycling proud

Blazin' Saddles

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This week, Canada's Ryder Hesjedal was praised for his honesty and integrity. Taking a leaf out of the 2012 Giro d'Italia winner's book, Blazin' Saddles is also going to be "fully truthful" in his reporting of the past few days' news.

So here are some facts.

Michael Rasmussen next week releases his book Yellow Fever. Far from being the Dane's attempt to reinvent himself as a risque travel writer specialising in the delights of South East Asia, the book is a warts-and-all autobiography about one Chicken's dope-fuelled quest to win the Tour de France.

In an extract published in a Copenhagen newspaper, Rasmussen claims he taught Ryder Hesjedal how to take EPO way back in 2003 when the Canadian was a promising mountain bike racer affiliated to the Rabobank youth development squad.

Within hours of the Rasmussen revelations surfacing, Hesjedal released a statement admitting to making "mistakes … more than 10 years ago" and "sincerely apologise(d)" for his part in "the dark past of the sport".

Perfecting the Stuart O'Grady path of measured confession, Hesjedal said that the "mistakes" for which he "will always be sorry" were "short-lived".

Following the carrying out of these "mistakes" - the fruition of a two-week period in the Dolomites in August 2003 alongside Rasmussen, who was then training for the Vuelta a Espana - Hesjedal went on to finish second in Mountain Bike World Championships in Zurich. The result meant Hesjedal cemented his place in Canada's squad for the Olympics, in which the then-24-year-old narrowly missed out on a medal - possibly even a gold - because of an untimely puncture.

Hesjedal then made the switch to road cycling, a sport far more saturated by EPO than MTB. Having made steady progress through his late 20s, Hesjedal finished sixth in the 2010 Tour before, two years later, winning a mountain-heavy Giro d'Italia by beating the climbing favourite Joaquim Rodriguez by a narrow margin.

In winning the Giro almost a decade after putting his "mistakes" behind him, Hesjedal joined the select (to the point of non-existent) list of riders who quit doping in order to win a Grand Tour clean.

Another similar group includes riders like O'Grady, who gave up doping after his solitary toke of the metaphorical cigarette to go on and win Paris-Roubaix, ride a record-equalling number of Tours (tied with George Hincapie) and reinvent himself as a climbing-friendly super-domestique.

(Poor Chris Horner - with all these confessions coming thick and fast, it's looking increasingly like the American veteran was deprived an incredible career.)

To reiterate, Hesjedal stated that he "stopped what I was doing many years before I joined Slipstream Sports".

After giving up cheating and all its performance enhancing effects and before joining Garmin (Slipstream) in 2008, Hesjedal rode for US Postal and Phonak - the former coinciding with Lance Armstrong's heady final two years and the latter during the season Floyd Landis 'won' the Tour. (Hesjedal was not a member of any of those Tour de France squads, it should be added).

Earlier this year, Hesjedal was approached by USADA following Rasmussen's admission to using performance enhancing drugs throughout the majority of his professional career.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (which sounds like something Trey Parker and Matt Stone would have come up with) has confirmed Hesjedal disclosed his past doping activities to the CCES and USADA in this spring. Hesjedal has gone further, claiming he was approached by anti-doping authorities "over a year ago" and he was "open and honest about my past".

With the case looming over his head, Hesjedal unsuccessfully and with much lacklustre defended his Giro crown in May before riding to 70th place in the Tour - his lowest ever position on a Grand Tour.

Indeed, Hesjedal's form since being under the spotlight has been patchy at best.

Showing about as much spine as a Danish climber on a time trial bike, Hesjedal kept mum about his doping past until Rasmussen blew the lid on his antics in his book. After all, it's hard to get something so heavy off your chest when you're part of a top secret ongoing investigation into "the sport that I love" - even if a confession, if done correctly, would only be incriminating yourself.

It later emerges that Hesjedal's name was not even included in USADA's reasoned decision because they decided his case had little to do with the Armstrong investigation. It still took the sound of a chicken clucking for Hesjedal to come forward and spill the beans.

Hesjedal will receive no ban because his acknowledgement of doping in 2003 sees him protected by the World Anti-Doping Code's eight-year statute of limitations.

Having now come clean in such a timely fashion, Hesjedal believes "that being truthful will help the sport continue to move forward".

Slipstream Sports has defended their rider and praised him for cooperating "fully and truthfully".

On the contrary, the CCES admits that it is "disappointed that Mr Hesjedal waited more than a decade to publicly disclose his past involvement in doping. His conduct has deprived many clean Canadian athletes from the opportunity to shine in the sport of cycling."

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA who nailed Armstrong, praised athletes like Hesjedal, "who have voluntarily come in, taken accountability for their actions and have been fully truthful". Such beacons of morality "are essential to securing a brighter future for the sport of cycling".

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Tygart's assertion that Hesjedal has been "fully truthful" is an odd one. How does he know? Did he take a leaf out of Sir Alex Ferguson's books and look Hesjedal right in the eye, through those visor sunglasses, and just accept his word because he would have known otherwise?

Hesjedal could have just as easily said he also doped in 2004 and who would we - or Tygart - be to know the better? After all, when Hesjedal was so outspoken about doping while riding to victory in the Giro last year, was the presumption not that he was being fully truthful then?

Basically, it all comes down to this. We, cycling fans with little room for faith in the sport or its consistently lying protagonists, are being asked to accept on face value (as those, like Tygart, who are trying to sort out the sport, have so generously done) that Hesjedal succumbed to temptation, saw how beneficial the effects of doping were, threw it all in after tasting glory, grew as a rider while off the juice in a Del Monte-heavy environment where juice was the drink of choice, joined a team that was created so that cyclists could compete 100% clean, but then didn't think his brief dalliance with the dark side would have added to the narrative and positive message of a team that boasted many reformed ex-dopers on their roster (ex-dopers like David Millar who have almost made ex-doping a weapon in his armoury) even when a cluster of his team-mates were rumbled so sensationally at the turn of the year?

Perhaps this all happened. But why was Hesjedal so ashamed about what would have essentially amounted to a morally praiseworthy stance against cheating that he didn't want to share with us his truth any earlier?

Are half-truths still lies? Who knows. What about not telling the truth - is that a lie?

Hmm. It almost makes you miss the proper offenders. Isn't there something rather heroic and commendable about a committed doper in the mould of Riccardo Ricco - a doper we can believe in, as opposed to a spineless one-season wonder who then kicked the habit before going on to bigger and better things while riding paniagua (but was so ashamed about the message that it would give out).

Ricco this week announced he was going to attempt to secure world record times on some of cycling's most legendary climbs in 2014. You know what - at least one cycling blogger will have more motivation tuning in to watching the Cobra in action rather than seeing Hesjedal slipping around like a snake in a sea of sorries.

At least with Ricco nowadays what you see is what you get - in full Technicolor, as opposed to 50 shades of grey.

As for telling the truth - if the criteria for cyclists being "fully truthful" is so blurred then there's no reason why that shouldn't be extended to the journalists who cover the sport. How about we all just write what we want, when we want? As long as we apologise within a decade when we get things wrong, then everyone's happy.

Blazin Saddles - On Twitter @saddleblaze

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